`Tenor’ succeeds on all fronts
A stage actor once noted about his craft: “Dying is easy. Comedy is hard.”
In Aspen Theatre in the Park’s production of Ken Ludwig’s “Lend Me a Tenor,” David Ledingham makes both dying and comedy look easy.
Ledingham, like the rest of the glorious cast in this uproarious farce, gets plenty of opportunity to be funny. As Tito Merelli – aka “Il Stupendo” – an Italian opera singer about to make his American debut in “Otello,” Ledingham gets to play big, really big. The typical opera star, Merelli is flamboyant, charming, egotistical and possessed of enormous appetites.
Merelli arrives, horribly late, at the Cleveland Opera, sick from overeating and nagged by his tormented, tormenting wife, Maria (Charisse Layne). To ease his pain, Merelli self-medicates with a combination of wine and pills; thanks to some comic misunderstandings, he overdoses, lies down in bed and dies.
Up steps Max (Neil David Seibel), a young nebbish who claims to have the voice to sing “Otello.” Max is alternately dissuaded and encouraged by his girlfriend Maggie (Natalie Dulaney) – who happens to have a crush on Merelli – and Maggie’s father Mr. Saunders (Bob Moore) – who happens to be the theater manager with his reputation and financial well-being on the line. When Merelli is discovered, morte, in the bedroom, Saunders goes with his only option: allowing Max to covertly stand in for Merelli.
Of course, Max is a hit. And, of course, Merelli is not actually dead, just really, really tired. And, of course, with a triumphant Max and a revived Merelli, wearing identical Otello costumes, both wandering around the Cleveland Grand Opera, there is plenty of confusion and mistaken identities.
In Theatre in the Park’s production of “Lend Me a Tenor,” directed by the group’s artistic director Alan Osburn, the hijinks are played to the hilt. There’s sexual innuendo galore (and in a show of boldness, things get truly steamy). Most memorable is the exchange between Merelli and the smitten local opera diva Diana (Peggy Mundinger): the two have different ideas of just what Diana’s “performance” consisted of.
Playing around with mistaken identities is hardly original stuff. “Lend Me a Tenor” is, in fact, with its “Otello” performance and the confused identities, one big nod to Shakespeare. But “Lend Me a Tenor” is uniquely fun. Particularly in the second act, when comedies can lose their laughs, “Lend Me a Tenor” picks up steam. The dialogue is sharp as a tack, the energy is enormous, and the humor comes in all forms, from the costuming (just seeing Max and Merelli side by side dressed as Otello is hilarious) to the nonstop slamming doors to the double-entendres.
The cast is, without exception, excellent. Ledingham’s Merelli is appropriately overblown; Seibel’s Max makes a natural transformation from milquetoast to macho. Even a smallish role like Gerald DeLisser’s pushy bellhop adds a dimension.
In a summer of horribly lame comedies in the movie theater, “Lend Me a Tenor” is a wonderful alternative.
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